Did We Ship Anyone Off to Timbuktu? Who at Senior Levels Knew What and When About HRC’s Communications

Posted: 2:52 am EDT
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The WSJ called the oldest executive agency in the union, the Department of Hillary, and accused  the entire State Department of “vigorously protecting Hillary Clinton.” It asks, “how it is that the nation’s diplomatic corps has become an arm of the Clinton presidential campaign?”

That is a sweeping accusation and we do not believe that to be true, but whether it’s true or not is immaterial. The perception is widely shared, even by reporters covering the State Department.  Our interest on HRC primarily relates to her tenure at State. We think that her management of the department — whether it relates to her email server, having a deputy chief of staff holding four jobs, special access to certain groups, operation in a bubble of mostly yes-people — was galling and distressing.  We do agree with Prof. Jonathan Turley when he writes that he “consider the decision to use exclusively an unsecure server for “convenience” to be a breathtakingly reckless act for one of the top officials in our government.”

Last month HRC was also quoted as saying, “I’m not willing to say it was an error in judgment.”

Folks will have to make up their own minds whether they agree with her or not, but the State Department is still paying a price for it. And the way this mess has been handled places at risk the institution’s deeply held tradition that the career service stay above the political fray.

The National Security Archive bluntly writes:

[T]he Federal Records Act, federal regulations on the books at the time (36 CFR 1263.22)[Official as of October 2, 2009], and NARA guidance which the State Department received (NARA Bulletin 2011-03), should have prevented Clinton’s actions, requiring her to provide “effective controls over the creation and over the maintenance and use of records in the conduct of current business”. (Read here for our analysis of why Clinton, and hundreds of others at State, including its FOIA shop and IT department, were in the wrong for not blowing the whistle on her personal email usage.) Read more here.

At some point in the near future, there will need to be a reckoning about what the senior officials, the career senior officials in Foggy Bottom knew about what during the Clinton tenure.

On Saturday, January 24, 2009 8:26 p.m. Lewis Lukens sent an email to M/Patrick Kennedy (email released via FOIA lawsuit by Judicial Watch (PDF). Lukens who was then the Executive Secretary (he was subsequently appointed US Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau), writes, “I talked to cheryl about this. She says problem is hrc does not know how to use a computer to do email  only bb. But I said would not take much training to get her up to speed.” The email chain talks about setting up “a stand alone PC in the Secretary’s office, connected to the internet” but apparently a separate system not through the State Department system that would allow HRC to “check her emails from her desk.”

What’s the difference between using a State Department system and a stand alone system for somebody who doesn’t know how to use a computer? But more that that, we want to understand why it was necessary to set up a stand alone system. Did previous secretaries of state have their own stand alone systems? Did they have their own private email servers? Can somebody please explain why that was necessary?

This email was sent three days after HRC took the oath of office of Secretary of State (see starting page 6 below or see PDF here).

So, if they were considering setting up a stand alone PC on the 7th Floor and that did not happen, how could anyone in the top ranks of the career service not know when HRC’s people set up a private server away from the building? If they did not know, they were not doing their jobs. But if they did know, what does that mean?  Did anyone speak up and consequently suffer career purgatory? Please help us  understand how this happened. Email us, happy to chat with anyone in the know because this is giving us ulcers.

A related item about communications — in March 2009, the then Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Eric Boswell sent a memo to HRC’s Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills concerning the use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row. In that memo, also released via FOIA litigation with Judicial Watch, Boswell writes that “Our review reaffirms our belief that the vulnerabilities and risks associated with the use of Blackberries in Mahogany Row [redacted] considerably outweighs the convenience their use can add to staff that have access to the unclassified OpenNet system on their desktops. [redacted] We also worry about the example that using Blackberries in Mahogany Row might set as we strive to promote crucial security practices and enforce important security standards among State Department staff.”

The last paragraph of the memo says “If, after considering the vulnerabilities that I describe above and the alternatives that I propose, the Secretary determines that she wants  a limited number of staff to use Blackberries in Mahogany Row …. [redacted].” (See below or see PDF here)

What the  career professionals proposed can, of course, be ignored or dismissed by the political leadership. How much of it can one tolerate? Some of it, all of it?

Below is an August 30, 2011 email between then HRC deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin and Steve Mull, who we believed succeeded Lukens as Executive Secretary of the State Department. Following that assignment, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Poland, and last year, he was appointed Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation.  The Daily Caller obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed on its behalf by Cause of Action and has reported about the emails here.  It shows the top officials who were loop in on the secretary’s communications setup, but it also points to what we suspect has always been the rationale on the server and email setup that now has consequential repercussions for the agency.  In one part of the email, the executive secretary writes, “We’re working with …. to hammer out the details of what will best meet the Secretary’s need.” (See below or see ScribD file here).

It is not surprising that the career folks worked to accommodate the needs of their principals.  We doubt anyone would last long in any assignment if they simply tell their boss blah, blah, blah can’t be done.

But — no individual in the upper ranks, career or noncareer, has so far been shown to stand up to a principal by saying “no, this is not allowed” or “this is not acceptable,” or even something like  — “this is not against the rules but it looks bad.” 

Does one draw a line between public service and service to a political leadership? Are they one and the same? What would you do?

Last September 2015, WaPo reported this:

But State Department officials provided new information Tuesday that undercuts Clinton’s characterization. They said the request was not simply about general rec­ord-keeping but was prompted entirely by the discovery that Clinton had exclusively used a private e-mail system. They also said they first contacted her in the summer of 2014, at least three months before the agency asked Clinton and three of her predecessors to provide their e-mails.
[…]
But the early call from the State Department is a sign that, at the least, officials in the agency she led from 2009 to 2013 were concerned by the practice — and that they had been caught off guard upon discovering her exclusive use of a private account.

Well, we’re sure the rank and file was caught off guard but which State Department officials were actually caught off guard? At least according to the Mull-Mills email exchange of August 2011, S/ES and M were aware of the existence of Secretary Clinton’s personal email server.

So when unnamed State Department officials talked to the Washington Post journalists last year, dammit, who did they say were actually caught off guard?

If anyone at M who has oversight over IT, Diplomatic Security, FOIA and federal records cited the Federal Records Act between 2009-2013 was shipped to Timbuktu for bringing up an inconvenient regulation, we’d like to hear about it.

Make no mistake, the perception that the Service had picked a side will have repercussions for the Foreign Service and the State Department.  If there is an HRC White House, we may see old familiar faces come back, or those still in Foggy Bottom, may stay on and on and just never leave like Hotel California.

But if there is a Trump or a Whoever GOP White House, we imagine the top ranks, and who knows how many levels down the bureaus will be slashed gleefully by the incoming administration. And it will not be by accident.

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A Blackwater Warning Before the Nisour Square Shooting and the State Dept’s Non-Response

— Domani Spero
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A James Risen  scoop over in NYT on how a warning on Blackwater in Iraq prior to the 2007 Nisour Square shooting that killed 17 civilians was ignored by the State Department. Quick excerpt:

State Department investigators arrived in Baghdad on Aug. 1, 2007, to begin a monthlong review of Blackwater’s operations, the situation became volatile. Internal State Department documents, which were turned over to plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Blackwater that was unrelated to the Nisour Square shooting, provide details of what happened.

It did not take long for the two-man investigative team — Mr. Richter, a Diplomatic Security special agent, and Donald Thomas Jr., a State Department management analyst — to discover a long list of contract violations by Blackwater.
[…]
The armored vehicles Blackwater used to protect American diplomats were poorly maintained and deteriorating, and the investigators found that four drunk guards had commandeered one heavily armored, $180,000 vehicle to drive to a private party, and crashed into a concrete barrier.
[…]
The investigators concluded that Blackwater was getting away with such conduct because embassy personnel had gotten too close to the contractor.
[…]
The next day, the two men met with Daniel Carroll, Blackwater’s project manager in Iraq, to discuss the investigation, including a complaint over food quality and sanitary conditions at a cafeteria in Blackwater’s compound. Mr. Carroll barked that Mr. Richter could not tell him what to do about his cafeteria, Mr. Richter’s report said. The Blackwater official went on to threaten the agent and say he would not face any consequences, according to Mr. Richter’s later account.

Mr. Carroll said “that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr. Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit.
[…]
On Oct. 5, 2007, just as the State Department and Blackwater were being rocked by scandal in the aftermath of Nisour Square, State Department officials finally responded to Mr. Richter’s August warning about Blackwater. They took statements from Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas about their accusations of a threat by Mr. Carroll, but took no further action.

Condoleezza Rice, then the secretary of state, named a special panel to examine the Nisour Square episode and recommend reforms, but the panel never interviewed Mr. Richter or Mr. Thomas.

Patrick Kennedy, the State Department official who led the special panel, told reporters on Oct. 23, 2007, that the panel had not found any communications from the embassy in Baghdad before the Nisour Square shooting that raised concerns about contractor conduct.

“We interviewed a large number of individuals,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not — that the embassy had suppressed in any way.”

Read in full Mr. Risen’s piece, Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater.

Click here for text of the teleconference call on October 23, 2007 with then State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack and Ambassador Patrick F. Kennedy on the Report of the Secretary of State’s Panel on Personal Protective Services in Iraq. The Q and A below:

QUESTION: Hi, this is Brian Bennett from Time magazine. I’m wondering in these reviews — why this review wasn’t done earlier, complaints about contractor conduct have been relayed to Ambassador Khalilzad, tocharge d’affaires Margaret Scobey, to Ambassador Crocker. And I’m wondering if in looking into this you had found any communiqus that have gone out of the Embassy into main State in the months prior to the September 16th incident about concerns about contractor conduct and why wasn’t – why it took an event like September 16th for these concerns to be addressed?

AMBASSADOR KENNEDY: We — when you look through the report you’ll see that we interviewed a large number — large number of individuals. We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not — that the Embassy had suppressed in any way. No one told us that they had — that they had made reports to the Embassy that had been suppressed.

 

Also see the  Implementation of Recommendations from the Secretary of State’s Report on Personal Protective Service Details

We found the Panel’s 2007 report (see below).  The Panel was composed of Eric Boswell, George Joulwan, J. Stapleton Roy and Patrick F. Kennedy.  Appended at the end of the report are the list of interviewees, which includes the acting RSO named in the NYT report. It does not, however, include the names of  the Blackwater project manager, or  Jean C. Richter, the Diplomatic Security special agent nor Donald Thomas Jr., the State Department management analyst.  According to the NYT, Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas declined to comment for its article.

Mr. Richter’s report that the private security firm’s manager there had threatened to kill him, an episode that  occurred just weeks before Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square is available here via NYT.    We note also that Ambassador Kennedy was appointed Under Secretary of State for Management (M)  on November 6, 2007. Prior to assuming his position as “M,” he was Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation (M/PRI) from May 2007.

Read the Secretary of State’s Report on Personal Protective Service Details from 2007:

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The Cautionary Tale of Raymond Maxwell: When the Bureaucracy Bites, Who Gets The Blame?

— Domani Spero
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Last week, we posted a Snapshot: State Dept Key Offices With Security and Related Admin Responsibilities and wondered why Raymond Maxwell’s former office as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the NEA Bureau did not get an organizational box. Our readers here may recall that Mr. Maxwell was one of the bureaucratic casualties of Benghazi.  Diplomatic Security officials Eric Boswell, Charlene Lamb, Steve Bultrowicz and NEA official, Raymond Maxwell were placed on paid administrative leave on December 19, 2012 following the release of the ARB Benghazi Report. On August 20, 2013, all four officials were ordered to return to duty. Mr. Maxwell officially retired from the State Department on November 30, 2013. Prior to his retirement he filed a grievance case with HR where it was denied and appealed the case to the Foreign Service Grievance Board where it was considered “moot and thus denied in its entirety.”

Our blog post last week, also received the following comment from Mr. Maxwell:

“[M]y grievance was found to have no merit by HR, and earlier this month, the FSGB found that the State Department made no errors in the way I was removed from my position, shamed and humiliated in the press, and placed on admin leave for nine months, Further, the FSGB found that I was not entitled to the public apology I sought in my grievance because I had retired. I have two options now. I can spend a great deal of money suing the Department in local courts, or I can let it go and move on with my life. My choice of the latter option neither erases the Department’s culpability in a poorly planned and shoddily executed damage control exercise, nor protects future foreign service officers from experiencing a similar fate. There is no expectation of due process for employees at State, no right to privacy, and no right to discovery.”

We spent the weekend hunting down Mr. Maxwell’s grievance case online; grievants’ names are redacted from the FSGB cases online. When we finally found it, we requested and was granted Mr. Maxwell’s permission to post it online.

The Maxwell case teaches us a few hard lessons from the bureaucracy and none of them any good. One, when you fight city hall, you eventually get the privilege to leave the premises. Two, when you’re run over by a truckload of crap, it’s best to play dead; when you don’t, a bigger truckload of crap is certain to run you over a second or third time to make sure you won’t know which crap to deal with first. But perhaps, the most disappointing lesson of all — all the good people involved in this shameful treatment of a public servant  — were just doing … just doing their jobs and playing their roles in the proper functioning of the service. No one stop and said, wait a minute …. They tell themselves this was such a  sad, sad case; they feel sorry for how “Ray” was treated. It’s like when stuff happens, or when it falls — se cayó. No one specific person made it happen; the Building made them do it. The deciding officials apparently thought, “This was not an easy matter with an easy and obvious resolution.” Here — have a drink, it’ll make you feel better about looking the other away.  See he was “fired” but he wasn’t really fired.  He was prevented from entering his old office, and then not really. Had he kept quiet and did not write those poems …who knows, ey …

We’re embedding two documents below –1) Maxwell’s FSGB case, also available online here (pdf); and 2) an excerpt from the Oversight Committee report that focused on Mr. Maxwell’s  alleged “fault” over Benghazi. Just pray that this never happens to you.

 

 

Below excerpted from the House Oversight Committee report on ARB Benghazi:

 

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Diplomatic Security Gets Bill A. Miller as New PDAS and New DSS Director

— Domani Spero

On April 14, 2014, Bill A. Miller was appointed Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service.   In the aftermath of Benghazi, Mr. Miller was appointed DAS for High Threat Posts last year (see State Dept Now Has 27 High-Threat, High-Risk Posts — Are You In One of Them?). Below is a statement from State/DS:

Bill A. Miller Screen Capture via SFRC fotage

Bill A. Miller, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service
Screen Capture via SFRC video

A member of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service since 1987, Bill Miller is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service.  Mr. Miller’s previous assignment was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for High Threat Posts in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

His last overseas assignment was a three-year posting as Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Mission in Cairo, Egypt.  For his leadership in guiding the U.S. Government security response to the revolutionary events of the “Arab Spring” in Egypt, Mr. Miller was awarded the Department’s Superior Honor Award.

Mr. Miller served for a year in Baghdad as the Regional Security Coordination Officer for the Coalition Provisional Authority and as the first Regional Security Officer for the newly established U.S. Mission to Iraq.  In addition to assignments in Iraq and Egypt, Mr. Miller has also served tours in Pakistan, Jerusalem, and the Philippines.

Preceding his assignment to Cairo, Mr. Miller was the Chief of the Security and Law Enforcement Training Division at the Diplomatic Security Training Center in Dunn Loring, Virginia.  Other domestic assignments have included service as the Regional Director for Contingency Operations, Chief of Counterintelligence Investigations for DSS, the Post Graduate Intelligence program at the Joint Military Intelligence College, almost five years on the Secretary of State’s Protective Detail and, his first assignment, the Washington Field Office.

Prior to entering on duty in 1987 with the Department of State as a Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent, Mr. Miller served as a U.S. Marine Infantry Officer.  Mr. Miller was honored as the 2004 Diplomatic Security Service Employee of the Year in recognition for his service in Iraq.  In addition, Mr. Miller is a recipient of the Department of State’s Award for Valor, several Superior Honor Awards, the Department of Defense Joint Civilian Service Commendation Award and the Marine Security Guard Battalion’s award as RSO of the Year.

With Mr. Miller moved up, the HTP post went to Doug Allison as new Deputy Assistant Secretary for High-Threat Posts.  The Deputy Assistant Secretary for High-Threat Posts (HTP) is responsible for evaluating, managing, and mitigating the security threats, as well as the direction of resource requirements as high-threat U.S. diplomatic missions. No bio has been posted at this time.

Another new name is Mark Hunter, who succeeded Charlene Lamb as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs.  This is the position responsible for “managing and directing all Bureau of Diplomatic Security programs and policies that protect the Department of State’s international missions and personnel from the threats of terrorism, espionage (human and technical), and crime.” No bio has been posted at this time.

Finally, the position of Director for the Office of Foreign Missions, formerly held by Eric Boswell is no longer vacant. Fredrick J. Ketchem has ben appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security and Deputy Director, Office of Foreign Missions.  This position is responsible for facilitating and regulating the tax, property, motor vehicle, customs, and travel activities of foreign missions in the United States. [see biography]

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Dear Senior State Department Official – It’s Time to Go

— By Domani Spero

I had to stop watching the Daily Press Briefing – Ms. Harf, the Deputy Spokesperson is way too chirpy for such a serious topic.

In any case, lots of questions about the Other Benghazi Four. We hope to have a recap for that later.  In the meantime, The Daily Beast and a couple other news outlet carried a statement from a senior State Department official (certainly authorized to speak about this but unnamed for a reason) saying this:

“As soon as he came into the department, Secretary Kerry wanted to invest the time to review the ARB’s findings and match those against his own on-the-job findings about security,” the senior State Department official said. “He’s been hands-on focused on building on the lessons learned from the Benghazi attack to strengthen security at missions world-wide and continue the ARB’s security paradigm shift.”

And this:

“[Secretary Kerry] studied their careers and studied the facts,” the official said. “In order to implement the ARB and to continue to turn the page and shift the paradigm inside the Department, the four employees who were put on administrative leave last December pending further review, will be reassigned inside the State Department.”

And just to make sure you you don’t misunderstand, the senior State Department official told The Daily Beast this:

“After consideration, Kerry reaffirmed the ARB’s finding that no employee breached their duty or should be fired but rather that some should be reassigned, the official said. The four individuals are not blameless, and the fact that they will not be returned to the same positions is relevant, the official said.”

Wuh duh ma huh tah duh fong kwong duh wai shung! Holy mother of god and all her wacky nephews!   Two questions:

Who the frack still uses words like “paradigm shift”?

If the four individuals are “not blameless” … well then — who are the individuals blameful for this?

If you think, returning these four to work will end this circus, that couldn’t be more wrong. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) issued the following statement promising an expanded investigation.

Obama administration officials repeatedly promised the families of victims and the American people that officials responsible for security failures would be held accountable. Instead of accountability, the State Department offered a charade that included false reports of firings and resignations and now ends in a game of musical chairs where no one misses a single day on the State Department payroll. It is now clear that the personnel actions taken by the Department in response to the Benghazi terrorist attacks was more of a public relations strategy than a measured response to a failure in leadership.

In the course of our investigation, the Oversight Committee learned that the State Department’s review of these four individuals did not include interviews with them or their supervisors to either substantiate or challenge allegations. The Oversight Committee will expand its investigation of the Benghazi terrorist attack to include how a supposed ‘Accountability Review Board’ investigation resulted in a decision by Secretary Kerry not to pursue any accountability from anyone.

We recognize that Secretary Kerry inherited this baggage from the Clinton tenure.  But it should not have lasted this long.  Eight months long after the ARB report and a month shy of the first anniversary of the Benghazi attack. What were you folks thinking?

Secretary Kerry was ill-served by senior officials in Foggy Bottom protecting their own skin.  When he came into the State Department, Secretary Kerry should have 1) declassified the ARB section laying blame on these four officials, 2) allowed these four officials to see the “evidence” against them and 3) ensured that the four individuals receive legal counsel and had the ability to defend themselves.  Isn’t that how we preach things ought to be done under the rule of law?   And most certainly, the process of evaluating whether or not these four deserves firing or not should have been made public and not done behind locked doors.  Of course, there’s no way to control how things go in the light of day.  But that’s the risk that should have been worth taking.  Right now, the State Department’s doors smell like cow-dung mud bricks. Some house cleaning is in order. This institution deserves more.

Maybe some senior State Department official ought to go spend more time with his family.  It’s time to go.

So I’ll play my role in the mean time
but the curtains have fell, I’ve got no lines
What’s left to say if it’s been said before

I’ve searched my self for an answer I know

It’s time to go

👀

 

 

 

 

The Other Benghazi Four: Lengthy Administrative Circus Ended Today; Another Circus Heats Up

— By Domani Spero

They were the bureaucratic casualties of Benghazi.  Diplomatic Security officials Eric Boswell, Charlene Lamb, Steve Bultrowicz and NEA official, Raymond Maxwell were placed on paid administrative leave on December 19, 2012 following the release of the ARB Benghazi Report (See Issa — Kerry Paper Shuffling Saga: What’s With the 7-Month Administrative Leave?).

Today, eight months to the exact day when the four officials were put on ice,  the State Department has reportedly decided to end their administrative leave status.  All  four officials have reportedly been ordered to return to duty tomorrow, August 20 at 9:00 a.m. It is not yet clear what positions they will go back to when they return to Foggy Bottom.   At least one of them, Mr. Boswell already has a successor awaiting Senate confirmation as Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security.

Putting these four back to work, of course, does not answer why they were put on paid admin leave in the first place. But don’t worry. We are confident that the State Department’s spokesman will be able to explain this whole circus to the inquiring public by citing issues of employee confidentiality.

👀

Meanwhile, the Human Abedin circus appears to heat up without any help from sexting scandal magnet, Carlos Danger.  We should note that we do not believe Ms. Abedin is a Muslim Brotherhood princess sent to infiltrate the United States.  However, we are interested on her special employment arrangement at the State Department following the birth of her child.  The NYT recently reported that the senior Senator from Iowa Chuck Grassley has been asking questions about Huma Abedin’s employment arrangement with the State Department.  The NYT is also curious and fielded its own questions.  The State Department, of course, cited employee confidentiality issues and declined to answer these questions. And that, of course, makes this case even more interesting.

The questions Mr. Grassley and his staff are still seeking answers to include: who in the department specifically authorized the arrangement for Ms. Abedin; who in the department was aware of her outside consulting activities; copies of contracts Ms. Abedin signed with private clients; and the amount she earned from those contracts.

In addition, The New York Times asked the State Department to provide the titles and job descriptions of other individuals the department has permitted to serve in the capacity of special government employee, and whether any of Mrs. Clinton’s other political appointees were given the special designation.

The department has declined to do so, citing issues of employee confidentiality.

The NYT report points out that Ms. Abedin, in addition to being a “special government employee” at the State Department also worked for three other entities:

Ms. Abedin, 37, a confidante of Mrs. Clinton’s, was made a “special government employee” in June 2012. That allowed her to continue her employment at State but also work for Teneo, a consulting firm, founded in part by a former aide to President Bill Clinton, that has a number of corporate clients, including Coca-Cola. In addition, Ms. Abedin worked privately for the Clinton Foundation and for Mrs. Clinton personally.

While Senator Grassley maybe accused of playing politics here, we totally agree with him when he says that “basic information about a special category of employees who earn a government salary shouldn’t be a state secret.”   Further, he also said, “Disclosure of information builds accountability from the government to the taxpaying public. Agencies that lose sight of transparency also lose public trust.”

In a statement to The Times on Sunday, a State Department spokesman said: “Ms. Abedin was invaluable to the secretary and her entire operation, providing a breadth of broad-based and specific expertise from her years in the White House and at the department that was irreplaceable.”

These folks are talking about a special government employee or SGE. The Office of Government Ethics explains:

Congress created the SGE category in 1962 when it revised the criminal conflict of interest statutes. Congress recognized the need to apply appropriate conflict of interest restrictions to experts, consultants, and other advisers who serve the Government on a temporary basis. On the other hand, Congress also determined that the Government cannot obtain the expertise it needs if it requires experts to forego their private professional lives as a condition of temporary service. Since 1962, the SGE category has been used in a number of statutes and regulations as a means of tailoring the applicability of some restrictions.

As defined in 18 U.S.C. § 202, an SGE is an officer or employee who is retained, designated, appointed, or employed to perform temporary duties, with or without compensation, for not more than 130 days during any period of 365 consecutive days. The SGE category should be distinguished from other categories of individuals who serve executive branch agencies but who are not employees, such as independent contractors (who are generally not covered by the ethics laws and regulations at all). Also, although many SGEs serve as advisory committee members, not all members of advisory committees are SGEs.

According to AFSA, the State Department had 104 Schedule C employees in 2012.  However, the personnel statistics we’ve looked at does not specify how many SGEs work at the State Department.  It would be interesting to see how many Schedule C employees also became SGEs and had similar employment arrangements to Ms. Abedin who resigned from State on Feb. 1. If Ms. Abedin became an SGE in June 2012 as reported, and resigned in February 2013, that’s more than 130 days.  It would be shocking, of course, if there are no exemptions to that 130-day rule since Congress made the rule.

The NYT report also cited Ms. Abedin’s response:  “Ms. Abedin, in a letter she wrote last month in response to Mr. Grassley’s inquiry, said she had sought the special status because she had recently given birth to her son and wanted to remain in New York while continuing to work for the department.”

How many other new moms at the State Department wanted that opportunity, too, we wonder?

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Issa — Kerry Paper Shuffling Saga: What’s With the 7-Month Administrative Leave?

— By Domani Spero

On July 31, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa fired another letter to Secretary of State John Kerry inquiring about the status of the four State Department personnel officially assigned blame over the disaster in Benghazi.  Diplomatic Security officials, Eric Boswell, Charlene Lamb, Steve Bultrowicz and NEA official, Raymond Maxwell were placed on paid administrative leave following the release of the ARB Benghazi Report in December 2012.  To-date, these officials have been on bureaucratic limbo with an end promised; though the “when” does not appear to be in sight.

We’ve lost count how many Issa letters are fluttering around the hallways of Foggy Bottom. And we’ve lost count how many pages of paper reportedly have been provided by the State Department to Congress. We heard pages and pages and pages of papers.  We trust that the papers provided actually contained or will contain relevant information, and not the telephone directories or photocopies of the Foreign Affairs Manual or the Foreign Affairs Handbook.

Seriously, we are pissed at this paper shuffling saga playing out between the State Department and Congress.  In a perfect world, the Oversight Committee should focus on what went wrong, what can be done to prevent another Benghazi from happening and forget about 2016.  In a perfect world, the State Department and the CIA should acknowledge their faults and shortcomings in what happened and help the American public understand the human cost of doing work in the dark corners of the world.   That is a naive view, of course.  In the real world, these folks are playing a game of mud, assuring the public that one mud is clearer and cleaner than the other. Frankly, that’s all horseshit, with apology to the horse. And while this game is playing on, there are real life consequences.

The DS bureau has been described as in a “hell of hurt” these days.  Not only because it lost three of its top officials in one messy swoop, but also because one of those officials was an important cog in the assignment wheel of about 1,900 security officers.  If the assignments of DS agents overseas have been a great big mess for the last several months, you may account that to the fact that Ms. Lamb, the person responsible for managing and directing all Bureau of Diplomatic Security programs and policies including personnel, had been put inside a deep freezer.  While planning has never been a State Department strength, succession planning is altogether a foreign object.  No nominee has been announced to succeed Ms. Lamb as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs.  Robert Hartung, the Assistant Director for Threat Investigation and Analysis Directorate has been appointed the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs according to the DS website.  The State Department telephone directory, however, has not even bothered  to list Mr. Hartung as acting DAS for International Programs.

Note and question of the day:  “Diplomatic Security is under intense pressure following Benghazi so now all resources are put towards “high threat” areas.  Nevertheless, experienced and well regarded DS officers at overseas posts are finding it impossible to stay out – even when they are the first choice for the receiving post.  When it gets to the panel – DS management declines to allow the agents to be paneled for the job.  I’ve known experienced agents being turned down for Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq because they’ve “been out too long.”  This is not an issue for other Foreign Service officers so why is it for Diplomatic Security?”

Got that in our inbox today.  Don’t know the answer except perhaps to point out that there is no/no email inside the freezer.

In any case, Mr. Issa’s July 31 letter to Secretary Kerry provides some interesting items.

1.  Apparently, the Committee has heard testimony from all four individuals faulted by the ARB, as well as their supervisors and colleagues. Witnesses reportedly testified that the Department offered “assurances” to Boswell, Bultrowicz, Lamb and Maxwell that their administrative leave status would be temporary and that they would return to new assignments within the Department.  Those assurances  seem to indicate that  the firing is part of a PR strategy more than accountability. Did State expect all four officials to just stay quiet as rocks until the political storm blows over?   A side note — Gregory Starr, recently nominated to succeed Boswell as top boss of Diplomatic Security praised these officers before Congress for giving “their careers to diplomatic security as well and the security of the Department of State.”  They are all praiseworthy enough that seven months on and the Secretary of State still has no idea what to do with them.

2.  And because Mr. Issa is still enamored with the Benghazi Talking Points, his letter brings up former spokeswoman Victoria Nuland’s “promotion” to be Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.  He also brought up former NEA PDAS Elizabeth Dibble who was recently appointed as Deputy Chief of Mission to London.  And Greg Hicks, former DCM at US Embassy Tripoli who was apparently unable to find a “comparable overseas assignment” ten months after curtailing from Libya.

3. The only person from the NEA Bureau officially assigned blamed by the ARB was Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell.  He was apparently singled out because he stopped attending morning meetings held to read certain intelligence material, which, according to witnesses interviewed by the Committee, contained no information that would have caused Maxwell or anyone else to adjust the security posture at Special Mission Benghazi.  The Acting NEA boss, Ambassador Elizabeth Jones, who supervised Maxwell, reportedly agreed with the ARB’s conclusion that it was inappropriate for Mr. Maxwell to stop attending the daily intelligence read-book meetings. She testified, however, that Maxwell’s failure to read the daily intelligence had no connection to the inadequate security posture of the U.S. mission in Benghazi.  So, of all the people working in the NEA bureau, how did Mr. Maxwell become “it”?

4.  Apparently, neither Ambassador Jones nor Eric Boswell viewed “administrative leave” as a common practice, and according to Mr. Issa’s letter, neither was aware of any prior use of such an extended period of administrative leave.  Neither of them ever heard of Peter Van Buren who was locked out of Foggy Bottom and placed on paid administrative leave for about a year? Well, that is interesting.

5.  Eric Boswell reportedly testified that a State Department senior official told him the period of paid administrative leave would be brief. So, not only temporary but also brief.  Damn, what’s the world coming to … if you can’t even trust a senior State Department official’s words of reassurance.  Mr. Boswell should have had in writing the meaning of the word “brief.”  Just saying.

Mr. Issa’s letter requires answers to the following 10 questions for Secretary Kerry; well he’s the Secretary of State, his staff or those same senior officials will obviously task worker bees to work on an acceptable response to Congress.

  • Who made the decision to place the four individuals named in the ARB report on paid administrative leave?
  • For each of the four individuals on paid administrative leave, when was the decision made and what were the specific reasons for the decision?
  • What is the State Department’s internal definition of paid administrative leave?
  • Please describe any steps the Department has taken to evaluate the respective performances of the individuals who were placed on paid administrative leave.
  • Besides the findings of the ARB, what information is being considered as part of the performance evaluation process?
  • Who is conducting the performance evaluation(s)? Who will make a recommendation regarding how the administrative leave status should be resolved?
  • Is the Department delaying a final determination due to the ongoing congressional investigation or any other ongoing review, including, but not limited to a review being conducted by the Office of the Inspector General? If yes, please identify the investigation or review that is delaying the final determination.
  • Does the Department intend to offer individuals placed on paid leave a formal opportunity to respond to the ARB’s criticisms of their conduct before making final decisions? Will their responses be made public?
  • How many times have you been briefed on the status of each of the four individuals placed on paid administrative leave?
  • Explain why you have been unwilling or unable to reach decisions on these important personnel matters.

Unfortunately, Mr. Issa did not ask the more important questions. What actions did these four individuals take that made them blamable for Benghazi?   What evidence did the ARB have against these individuals and why are those kept classified?  Was any one of them directly responsible for opening up the Special Mission in Benghazi? Was anyone of them directly responsible for whatever agreement the State Department-CIA had on the security and operation of the temporary mission?  Was anyone of them directly responsible for turning down the request for more security? Why were they given assurances that their administrative leave status would be temporary and that they would return to new assignments within the Department if an investigation was ongoing?  These assurances — do these assurances  show the predetermined  nature of whatever investigation? Because if there is an investigation, and no one as yet know how it will turn out, how can anyone make stupid promises like these?

Were these promises to the four individuals routinely made to FSOs in trouble like Peter Van Buren?  Peter — yohoo! Did anyone ever tell you  your admin leave status would be temporary and that you would return to a new assignment within the Department at the conclusion of your investigation? What? They padlocked the door after you?

Oh hey, is it true that folks in the upper echelons of the State Department — those who are looked up as leaders and as models of behavior by the rank and file — no longer even look in the mirror afraid of what they’ll see there? Ay madre de dios!

Below is Mr. Issa’s letter in full.  Click on the lower right hand corner of the Scribd screen to display the letter in full screen.   WARNING: Reading may put you on full jaded and sour mood. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

State Dept Now Has 27 High-Threat, High-Risk Posts — Are You In One of Them?

By Domani Spero

 

Two top Diplomatic Security officials went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the July 16 hearing on S.980, The Embassy Security and Personnel Protection Act of 2013:  The guy who currently holds three jobs, Gregory B. Starr (Acting Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service) and Bill Miller, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of High Threat Posts.

McClatchy reports that the officials told the Senate that fifteen diplomatic posts in high-threat areas fail to meet safety standards 10 months after the Benghazi attacks.  Mr. Starr was quoted saying, “We cannot retrofit many of our buildings to withstand blasts or direct attacks without the ability to move to a new location . . . and build a new facility.”

The Starr testimony is here, and the Miller testimony is here.

AA/S Star’s testimony includes this:

DS is hiring 151 new security professionals this and the next fiscal year, many of whom will directly serve at or provide support to our high-threat, high- risk posts. We are also working very closely with the Department of Defense (DOD) to expand the Marine Security Guard program, as well as to enhance the availability of forces to respond in extremis to threatened U.S. personnel and facilities. We recently worked with DOD and the U.S. Marine Corps to elevate personnel security as a primary mission of the Marine Security Guards. Each of these efforts enhances the Department’s ability to supplement, as necessary, the host government’s measures in fulfilling its obligations under international law to protect U.S. diplomatic and consular property and personnel.

Missions overseas with some exceptions typically get one RSO and one ARSO. According to a March 2013 statistics, Diplomatic Security has 1,951 Security Officers (diplomatic couriers, engineers and techs excepted). It is slated to grow by 151 in FY2013 and another 151 in FY2014 to a total of 2,253. This is the crew that staff eight field offices in the United States, most of 284 posts overseas, the expanded DS offices in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan and the newly designated high-threat, high-risk posts that now numbers 27. These are the same folks that provide security to the Secretary of State seven days a week, 24 hours a day, everywhere he travels in the world, as well as protective security details for cabinet-level foreign dignitaries who visit the United States.

We have some two months left in the fiscal year. Whoever is hired or will be hired for the remainder of this fiscal year and next year still has to undergo required training.  At this point, can we really count on those additional 151 new security professionals to serve or provide support to these 27 high threat posts?

In May 2013, in its announcement of the ARB Benghazi recommendation implementation, the Department said this:

“All high threat posts now have a minimum of a one-year tour of duty. We are planning to ensure overlap between incumbent and incoming positions to facilitate continuity of operations at high threat posts. Temporary duty assignments are set at a minimum of 120 days.”

That looks good on paper but you can’t do overlap if you can’t staff positions with incoming personnel. There is a limited pool of available agents with high-threat tactical training, and a good number of them are probably deployed to AIP posts. Some have also done back to back one-year postings between Iraq and Afghanistan. Then there’s Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and all that …

From our burn bag: “Another round of TDY requests for high-threat posts went unfilled with exactly ZERO DS agents volunteering. DS is now at the point where they’re threatening to direct agents to these high-threat locations for periods of 45 to 60 days.”

Even if DS is successful in ordering TDY directed assignments to high threat locations for 45-60 days, that is only half the duration State had previously cited as a minimum TDY length on its the Benghazi ARB implementation. And it would be exactly the same as the Libya TDYs, which, according to RSO Eric Nordstrom were 8-weeks duration or 56-day temporary duty assignments.

The Department also said that it “established a High Threat Board to review our presence at High Threat, High Risk posts; the Board will review these posts every 6 months.”

May 20, 2013 see State Dept Announces Implementation of 24 Out of 29 ARB Benghazi Recommendations

Fast-forward to July 2013, there are now 27 posts which fall under the high- threat, high-risk designation. And the DAS for the High Threat bureau just told Congress that the list will be reviewed annually, at a minimum, and more frequently as needed.

After the September 2012 attacks on our facilities in Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, Sudan, and Egypt, the Department reviewed its security posture and created my position, the Diplomatic Security Deputy Assistant Secretary of High Threat Posts, also known as HTP, along with a staff of security professional to support high-threat, high-risk posts. The Department assessed our diplomatic missions worldwide and weighed criteria to determine which posts are designated as high- threat, high-risk – there are now 27 posts which fall under this designation. This designation is not a static process and the list will be reviewed annually, at a minimum, and more frequently as needed. As emergent conditions substantially change, for better or for worse, at any post worldwide, high-threat, high-risk designations will shift, and missions will be added or deleted from this category. The HTP Directorate I oversee will lead the security operations in these high- threat, high-risk posts around the world, coordinate strategic and operational planning, and drive innovation across the broad spectrum of DS missions and responsibilities. We continue to work closely with the Regional Bureaus to ensure that everyone has visibility of the security threats at our posts.

We do not have a complete list of the high threat posts except the 17 posts already reported by the National Review Online in November 2012 from a State Department announcement, and CBS News here in December 2012 with a “senior State Department official” as source. See New Diplomatic Security Office to Monitor 17 High Threat Diplomatic Missions (With ARB Update) Dec 8, 2012 and State Dept’s New High Threat Posts Are Not All Danger Posts Dec 9, 2012.

As of this writing, the positions of Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security (formerly held by Eric Boswell), Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs (formerly held by Charlene Lamb) and Director for the Office of Foreign Missions (formerly held by Eric Boswell) remain vacant.

During the same hearing, Mr. Starr, according to McClatchy told senators that Secretary Kerry was reviewing those on administrative leave, as well as the circumstances of the attack but went on to praise the reprimanded officers.

“These are people that have given their careers to diplomatic security as well and the security of the Department of State, and I have a great deal of admiration for them,” Starr said. “It does not excuse the fact that we had a terrible tragedy in Benghazi . . . (but) all through the years that we’ve had multiple attacks in Yemen and in Afghanistan and in Iraq, those people performed admirably.”

It’s been almost seven months to the day three DS and NEA officials were put “on administrative leave pending further action.” Are these positions open because these officials will potentially return to these jobs after their administrative investigations conclude or is it because the government’s case is not going anywhere? Also, Secretary Kerry has been on the job for about six months now and on travel for over two months (68 days on travel since assuming post), visiting 27 countries, logging 134,691 miles along the way.

When does he even get the time?

👀

 

 

 

 

 

 

State Dept on Issa Subpoenas: Received “Out of the Blue”… Witnesses “Need Time to Review and Prep”

—By Domani Spero

Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa spells out his complaints on his June 24 letter to Secretary Kerry hereAccording to the Oversight Committee:

Issa details the Committee’s months-long efforts to arrange interviews with officials possessing direct knowledge of the events. On April 29, 2013, Committee staff contacted State Department officials to request their assistance in arranging interviews. The request was reiterated on May 17, 2013, however investigators have only been able to interview one of the 13 individuals with whom they requested interviews and the meeting was arranged without the State Department’s help.

The May 17 letter requested that the following former and current employees of the State Department be made available for a transcribed interview. This is the first time we’ve seen the list.  We have added the titles as best we can determine.

  1. David Adams, former Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs
  2. *Eric Boswell, former Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security (on administrative leave, pending further action)
  3. *Elizabeth Dibble, former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs; rumored to be the next Deputy Chief of Mission for US Embassy London
  4. Jeremy Freeman, State Department lawyer, an expert in Congressional subpoenas (via NYT)
  5. *Elizabeth Jones, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau Near Eastern Affairs
  6. Patrick Kennedy, Under Secretary of State for Management
  7. Raymond Maxwell, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau Near Eastern Affairs (on administrative leave, pending further action)
  8. Cheryl Mills, former Counselor and Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
  9. Victoria Nuland, former Spokesperson of the Department of State; nominated as A/S for the EUR Bureau
  10. Philippe Reines, former Senior Advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
  11. William Roebuck, former Director for the Office of Maghreb Affairs, NEA Bureau; appointed Chargé d’ Affaires to Libya from January-June 2013
  12. Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  13. Jacob Sullivan, former Director of Policy Planning and Deputy Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Currently National Security Advisor to VPOTUS

One name not on this list but was served a subpoena by the Issa Committee is Scott Bultrowicz, the former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (one of the four officials put on administrative leave pending further action).  Names with an asterisk have been issued a subpoena (see Not Going to Take It Anymore — Issa Subpoenas Boswell, Bultrowicz, Dibble and Jones).

In any case, Patrick Ventrell, the Director of the State Department’s Press Office and occasional person on the podium during the Daily Press Briefings was asked about the Issa subpoenas on June 25, 2013 and here is what the building says in a word cloud:

Word Cloud via WordItOut

Word Cloud via WordItOut

If you want to read the fine details, please see below. We particularly like the question, “to date, how many witnesses have you provided for testimony?” We do not particularly like the dodgy response but somebody’s gotta say the blahs so folks have something to write about.

QUESTION: Benghazi?

MR. VENTRELL: Sure.

QUESTION: Patrick, today Chairman Issa’s issued subpoenas to four State Department officials. Will the State Department be cooperating with the subpoenas?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, as we’ve consistently said, we’ve been cooperating with Congress on this matter going back many months. We’ve made available to Congress several department witnesses and briefers, as well as over 25,000 pages of documents. We understand that Chairman Issa has issued subpoenas for four Department employees. These four employees were already preparing to do voluntary interviews with the committee, and since the committee sent their initial interview requests, we’ve been discussing with them in good faith both the terms for the interview and the scheduling logistics. In fact, we had offered employees to be interviewed in early July. So this had been something that they were voluntarily willing to do.

QUESTION: But in that letter Chairman Issa claimed that State Department Chief of Staff David Wade has not been cooperating, that since mid-May they’ve been asking for these people. What exactly is the holdup then?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we absolutely reject that. We’ve been cooperating all along, and the Department has shown unprecedented cooperation. We’ve spent thousands and thousands of man-hours complying with dozens of requests from Congress. We’ll continue to cooperate while reiterating our request that the Congress and the media shift from focusing on long-debunked myths to the real need to protect America’s diplomats and development experts serving their country overseas.

So on this particular case, ever since we received the interview requests, we’ve been in regular contact with the committee negotiating in good faith and it’s unfortunate that Chairman Issa, without warning, disregarded those discussions and issued subpoenas for witnesses who were willing to testify. This is a pattern that we saw with Mr. Pickering as well, something that – this is a tactic he’s used before. I can’t speculate on his motivations but it’s something that he’s done before.

QUESTION: And to date, how many witnesses have you provided for testimony?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, we’ve been in discussion with the committee about providing the witnesses prior to receiving the subpoena. So we were working on the dates, working on the list of names, when this subpoena sort of suddenly arrived yesterday.

QUESTION: It’s been months, why hasn’t it happened?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I don’t know if I’d characterize it as months. I mean, this is something that – I don’t have the date of the original request from Mr. Issa here in front of me, but ever since we received the – let me see if I have this here – I don’t have the date right in front of me, but ever since we received it —

QUESTION: Mid May.

MR. VENTRELL: — we’ve been in consistent and continual contact with the committee staff, and we’ve done so in good faith.

QUESTION: And lastly, do you think that this perceived stalling from Issa that it could be perceived that these witnesses are being coached or they’re getting – taking time to get their testimony or words right?

MR. VENTRELL: No, that’s absurd. We reject that. It’s certainly understandable that people need time to prepare for congressional testimony; witnesses take that very seriously, need time to review and prep, and that’s standard practice and normal. So we just reject that.

QUESTION: So it’s not the four people stalling, it’s perhaps the State Department or it’s Issa not being organized?

MR. VENTRELL: This is about getting them the best possible information, making sure the witnesses have time to be prepared to provide the best possible information. And we’re working with them in good faith and scheduling dates, so this sort of arrived out of the blue yesterday.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that you told Chairman Issa that you’ve given them everything that you have, and you have nothing else to give them? Is that —

MR. VENTRELL: Well, that’s not exactly —

QUESTION: In layman’s terms.

MR. VENTRELL: No, no, no. That’s not exactly what’s going on here. This was a specific request, Said, for witnesses. This was a —

QUESTION: Right. I understand what’s going. I’m just saying, what is your position? What do you tell them, that we have already submitted all these – we answered all these questions —

MR. VENTRELL: No. The point is that the cooperation has been ongoing, and in this case we were cooperating on providing witnesses. So we received a subpoena out of the blue.

Makes one wonder how long it took the one witness already interviewed by the Committee with no assistance from the State Department to “review and prep.”

(>x<!)

Not Going to Take It Anymore — Issa Subpoenas Boswell, Bultrowicz, Dibble and Jones

—By Domani Spero

 

On May 17, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa wrote to Secretary Kerry with a request to interview 13 former and current employees of the State Department. On June 24, he wrote another letter asking hey, it’s been a month and the Committee has only been able to interview one of the thirteen individuals identified on the May 17 letter. Apparently, that one interview was scheduled without the assistance of the State Department.

So he was not happy, particularly after learning that the interviews will not occur until the middle of July.

July! That’s like the middle of the summer transfer season!

Anyway, Chairman Issa will not take it anymore and says “The Department has left me with no alternative but to issue subpoenas to compel testimony from these important witnesses.

The following witness were reportedly issued subpoenas:

  • Eric Boswell, Former Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Diplomatic Security
  • Scott Bultrowicz, Former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service, Bureau of Diplomatic Security
  • Elizabeth Dibble, Former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
  • Elizabeth Jones, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau Near Eastern Affairs

Click here to read Chairman Issa’s June 24 letter to Secretary Kerry.

(._.)